What is the allocation of parental responsibilities in Illinois?

The term “allocation of parental responsibilities” became part of Illinois family law in 2016. It has the same basic meaning as “child custody,” but the term changed, in part, to remove the implication that children are like property. Similarly, “parenting time” replaced the term “visitation,” in part to challenge the idea that non-custodial parents are mere visitors in their children’s lives.

Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, parental responsibilities include both parenting time and the authority to make significant decisions on behalf of the child or children. Such decisions include, for example, decisions about medical care, the child’s religious upbringing, school and other issues of long-term importance in the child’s life.

Parenting time is time spent providing caregiving functions for the child or children or arranging for their care. Some examples of activities considered parenting time include:

  • Satisfying a child’s nutritional needs
  • Washing, grooming and dressing the child
  • Managing bedtime and wake-up routines
  • Playing with the child
  • Directing the child’s developmental needs
  • Providing discipline, instruction and ethical guidance
  • Ensuring the child attends school and extracurricular activities
  • Ensuring the child attends medical appointments
  • Helping the child with relationships

A parenting plan is a written agreement allocating parenting time, responsibilities, or both.

How are parenting plans determined?

In most cases, parents who are unmarried or are divorcing will negotiate these arrangements and present them to a judge for approval. Assuming the parenting plan complies with state law and is in the general best interest of the children, the judge will typically convert the negotiated plan into a court order that is enforceable by either party.

If the parents are unable to agree on the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time even after mediation, the issues are decided by the judge, who will attempt to act in the children’s best interest. The judge may bring in experts to assess the parents, child and living situations. The judge may also appoint a certified guardian ad litem, who is like a lawyer for the children who acts in their best interest.

The decisions about parental responsibilities and parenting time will be decided during a trial. Each party can bring in evidence and testimony. The final order is called an “allocation judgment.”

There is no presumption that parenting time will be divided equally. There is also no presumption that the mother or the father is to receive the majority of the parenting time. Instead, the judge will attempt to act in the best interest of the children. He or she may, however, take into consideration which parent, if any, has previously taken the role of primary caregiver. Substantiated allegations of abuse will also be considered, and an abusive parent may receive restricted or supervised parenting time.

How a family law attorney can help

If you are seeking to allocate your parental responsibilities or parenting time, your attorney can help you come up with a preliminary plan and negotiate with the other parent and/or their attorney. Your attorney can also help you make changes to an existing parenting plan or allocation judgment if there are significant changes in your circumstances. And, an attorney can help enforce these orders when they are not followed.